I was having a conversation the other day with some family members and I was struck quite forcefully by how so many normal people have an utterly and explicitly biased epistemological methodology. It’s very disheartening, but in this post-fact reality (and one, perhaps, that we have always lived in), it is apparent that people often have a disdainful appreciation of fact and rational foundations for belief.
“So, what do you think about Trump? I think he’s great.”
The glint in the eye said everything. I didn’t directly challenge them, because I knew it wouldn’t end well. What I did do was detail a pretty comprehensive list of contradictions to Trump; for example:
Five opinions on abortion in three days.
Slamming illegal immigrants at the same time as marrying one and employing as many as possible to drive down his wage costs.
Claiming to be for working class Americans, but being a billionaire of the elitist class who has shown no previous regard for the working class whatsoever.
Claiming to be a great businessman but having up to six companies go bankrupt, and in the knowledge that if he had just invested his inheritance he would have earned much more than the present value of the totality of his business ventures.
So on and so forth.
I went to town on him.
This appeared to be water off a duck’s back. Indeed, I doubt a single syllable of it will ever be remembered. If people don’t want to change their minds, or are simply not used to doing it, then they won’t. There is nothing to be done. No light bulb will come on, no new ideas will enlighten them.
The issue is how people originally come to their opinions. If they don’t arrive at them particularly rationally, but more psychologically (and often as a result of the many cognitive biases we have), then they are unlikely to change them based on rational evidence.
Because they don’t want to.
Motivated reasoning is a bugger to undo. And in this case, the motivation was most probably inherent racism and an utter dislike of immigrants. In the same way that Brexit, Farage and UKIP are virtually impossible to dislodge as prime beliefs or likes, Trump is a clear winner and will be hard to show in any lasting negative light.
It’s how Trump has been forgiven his umpteen moral disgraces. It’s how even evangelicals and their moral haughtiness have ended up bloody voting for him.
All this and the person in question had no working knowledge of American politics such as who the Republicans and Democrats were with regard to what they stood for and who their parallels night be in British politics. So, really, their opinion was derived from snatches of “news” read in tabloid newspapers or seen on TV programmes of nebulous provenance.
And then there was “I don’t like Obama” from another family member.
“Why? Because I hear that a lot…,” and it often turns out that the person doesn’t really have a clue why; the belief is simply devoid of evidential basis.
In this case, I am almost 100% sure it is because he is black.
The point of this is not to argue over whether or not Trump is great or Obama is rubbish (although here is a list of 400 achievements of Obama with citations), but to show how prevalent beliefs without foundation are. This post-fact reality that we live in is far more pervasive than at first we might have imagined. I’m getting really tired of having to do a huge amount of rational research and legwork in order to justify opinions whilst those around me appear to be able to pick their opinions out of the air because, well, it fits with their desires and biases.
Yes, before you say it, we are all biased, and I, too, am victim. But at least knowing about this and talking about it is evidence that I am trying to mitigate those biases. That is what having a blog is all about – putting my views out there to be dissected by people of varying views – and seeing whether I can still rationally hold them.